King of the Bingo Game
by Ralph Ellison
Tools of Characterization
Thoughts and Opinions
"The woman in front of him was eating roasted peanuts that smelled so good that he could barely contain his hunger" (1). From the very first line of the story, we are trained to understand our central character via his thoughts and opinions. We actually learn most of our factual information through the protagonist's thoughts: he is broke, he is from the South, etc. It is difficult for us to understand, however, exactly who the protagonist is as a person. Is he young? Handsome? Kind? Thoughtful? Pay attention to exactly the kinds of thoughts and opinions we are receiving from the protagonist, because they are almost the only tools used to articulate his character.
Speech and Dialogue
Occasionally in the story, we see the narrator take on what we assume to be the protagonist's dialect. Check out: "took a deep swoller" (15) and "Rock' Mont, North Car'lina" (41). This helps us remind us that the protagonist is from the South and his diction is different from those around him, heightening our sense of the protagonist as an isolated individual.
Understanding the protagonist's social status is key to understanding the kind of oppression or suffering he has experienced in life. As a black man in America, the protagonist occupies a low social position. People refer to him as "boy" and "fool." Notice that his social status is not set up in opposition to anyone else's, such is the extent to which Ellison wants us to focus on the protagonist. Understanding the protagonist's social status as the product of larger forces helps set up the transcendent moment later in the bingo game.